A Giant Web in the Brain—The Science of Creativity

I just spent several days in Tijuana, Mexico, doing volunteer medical work. My favorite site when I travel there is a community the volunteers fondly call ‘the dump’.

Yes, a real city dump. We set up a portable medical clinic at the site of the landfill, a place of extreme poverty, where, over time, a shanty town has risen from the trash-filled ground. Literally. Dig down a few inches anywhere and it’s someone else’s garbage.

P1040701-2

Pepenadores—waste pickers—are people from the community who make their living picking through the trash left by dump trucks. Almost everything they have, wear, or eat comes from the dump. In the garbage, families find what they need to survive.

But this outcast community is an amazing place. As I make my way past a row of homes I’m stunned by the ingenuity of the people. They’ve built everything they need from junk that was uncovered in the landfill.

P1040770-2

Example of artistic construction from junk. Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. A wall is built from bottles, bottle caps, and cement. The restaurant’s owner grew up in Mexico in extreme poverty and he continues to re-use and re-purpose junk.

Houses on the landfill are pieced together from tarps, pallets, plywood, corrugated metal, and even old garage doors. Furniture is constructed using everything imaginable from buckets to tires. And art that can be sold is created from things like bottle caps, glass, and oil cans. It would seem ‘Dump city’ is a perfect example of creativity as a result of necessity, where everything thrown away is re-used, re-cycled and re-purposed.

So I began wondering about creativity and ingenuity. How can a community so impoverished be so creative to make everything they need from only the items they find? So many people living in America couldn’t even deal with that sort of existence, let alone survive.

Is creativity something one is born with or is it born of necessity? Is it a game of life where either you’ve got it or you don’t? What is creativity, anyway?

P1040769-2

Mexican art from junk, Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. This is a bench made from a discarded bed frame.

P1040762-3

Mexican art from junk, Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. Light fixture made from a tin can.

At the end of the clinic day, I walk the paths across the landfill. There are no sewers nor garbage collection on the dump. Electricity is stolen from nearby electrical poles and the dirt roads are pockmarked with mud-filled holes. There are no city services in an illegal town.

When there’s a rain storm, the hillsides bleed trash. Needles and bottles, plastic utensils and doll’s arms poke out of the mud like broken bones from an open wound.

Garbage tumbles into the ravines below, and mangy, stray dogs and wild chickens roam the debris. American volunteers see an abundance of trash, but the people living there see raw materials to make something they need.

Fires can erupt from the methane produced by decomposing trash, and when they do, homes are destroyed. Then the people, with unbelievable optimism, start over, fabricating new homes and new furniture from junk they salvage, and they continue their lives, but their lives are always difficult.

P1000870-2

Even though they’re living on top of decades worth of trash, there’s a cemetery on the landfill where the dead are buried. The graves are piles of dirt or cement slabs, but families have planted trees, painted many of the slabs with bright colors and fabricated decorations. Walk through the graveyard in November and it’s gorgeous. Nearly every gravesite is beautifully decorated with flowers, offerings, and handmade religious items, all in celebration of El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

P1040774

Mexican art, Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. A painted skeleton head is often seen during Day of the Dead celebrations.

Every path I walk in the landfill community there is evidence of creativity despite the heavy burden of poverty. This phenomenon doesn’t happen only in the Tijuana dump. Across the world, especially in poorer countries, art is often the first commodity created, made from whatever the people have around them and sold on the streets to tourists.


Teaser of the upcoming documentary film “Landfill Harmonic”

In Paraguay, people living on a landfill have used the trash to create musical instruments. Their instrumental music is now available everywhere on the globe and a movie about them is in the works. Constructing instruments from junk and then playing them beautifully is real creativity!

So, how is creativity in such deprived areas explained?

Is necessity the mother of invention?

Sort of. But there’s more to invention than just necessity. According to scientist Jonathan Schattke, who is often quoted on this subject, “Necessity is the mother of invention, it is true, but its father is creativity, and knowledge is the midwife.”

The latest science agrees, suggesting there are many factors that go into invention and creation. Need plays a role, like in Tijuana, but studies suggest that creativity entails a lot more.

Is creativity a right brain activity?

Neuroscience has given us new insights about creativity, clarifying what it is, and more importantly, how to enhance it. Creativity is not located solely in one spot on the right side of the brain. We can no longer use the excuse to explain away someone else’s creativity as, “Well, they were just born with it.”

MRI studies (where people solve riddles or brain teasers, create rap lyrics, draw or otherwise improvise inside the MRI machine) show that when a person is being creative the brain lights up in many, many locales—not in a single spot on the brain’s right side. All over the brain, right and left, these illuminated areas are associated with facts, experiences, motor activity, emotions, knowledge, and memories.

CreativeBrainCollage

It would seem, everything we have ever experienced is involved in our creativity.

Studies show that creativity is exactly that, a spark, a new and unique connection between two or more spots in our brains. A person who has a greater number of points (call them memories, facts, experiences) in their brain to draw upon is much more likely to have that new and unusual connection, that spark of creativity.

BrainWithFewExperiences

A brain with few facts and experiences can only make a few ordinary connections.

BrainWithLotsOfConnections

A brain with many facts and experiences can make more connections, especially more unique connections.

What about kids?

On the Tijuana landfills, children often work alongside their families. They collect and try to sell to strangers all sorts of items they’ve found or made. These kids aren’t old enough to have a lot of knowledge or experiences, so why do children everywhere seem to have a tremendous amount of creativity without a lot of knowledge?

Kids often connect their dots randomly and therefore stumble into creativity. Their thinking isn’t rigid about what experience is supposed to connect with which fact. They are more likely to make spontaneous and wild connections, which adults see as creative. Those same adults tend to suppress any odd ball connections they might have.

But, studies show that by third grade the ability to connect random dots in a creative or unusual manner decreases. One of the theories thrown out there is that kids are limited by a growing awareness of rules and regulations. Others say it could be the educational system. And as kids get even older, the peer pressure to fit into an accepted mold discourages both creativity and individuality.

So how are we supposed to counter those forces in order to maintain or encourage childhood creativity?

The answer seems to be in providing kids with creative outlets. Scientists suggest asking them open-ended questions, playing ‘what-if’ games, and giving them problems that require creativity in solving, such as riddles or situations where the answers aren’t obvious. What can they make from three random objects or what can they draw from a squiggle on a piece of paper?

Take kids to new places and provide them with lots of knowledge, information, and experiences to populate their brains. Encourage curiosity. Follow the ants to see where they go instead of stepping on them. Help kids build a repository of memories and then let them freely explore the ideas that result.

How can a person enhance his or her own creativity?

Most Americans don’t have survival as the impetus to be creative like the people who live on the landfill. But for those whose job requires creativity or who have a creative hobby, what can be done to enhance it? Science tells us a number of ways we can stimulate our own creativity.

Make more dots that can be connected across a wide range of knowledge and experience.

Discoveries, inventions, and creative ideas come from synthesizing information across different fields and building on the works of others. Most creative or scientific breakthroughs come from people who have been learning about their own field for many years. Studies suggest it takes approximately ten years worth of experiences or knowledge in any given area to be able to invent or create something really new and innovational.

But all experiences count. It’s easy to see how important it is to create a storehouse of knowledge and memories that we can draw upon later, providing our brains with a web of opportunities to spark that unique connection.

dreamstime_xl_19533563_zps03aeaa16_2

Be optimistic.

No matter how hard they have it, most people living on the Tijuana landfills are optimistic, always hoping for a better life. Studies show that being positive works alongside knowledge and experience to boost creativity and ingenuity. Realizing that first ideas are often worthless (the simple, easy connections in the brain), we should push ourselves further until we have that flash of genius (combining ordinary ideas in extraordinary ways).

Take a shower (But keep a waterproof notepad handy).

There are many anecdotes about how someone got an idea or an answer to a problem in the warm relaxation of the shower or bathtub. One of the ideas for the Hubble telescope folding arms came to its engineer while taking a shower. Greek scientist Archimedes was stepping into a bathtub when the principle of fluids came to him. Creativity doesn’t blossom under pressure. We need to relax. A shower does that.

Have some alone time.

Inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla said that to be alone is the secret of invention, that working or relaxing alone is where ideas are born. Often daydreaming and pondering without interruption triggers those obscure connections we seek.

Take a walk.

Taking a walk helps us get away from our problem for awhile. It also allows our subconscious to work on testing connections without putting up barriers. Once all the raw material is loaded into our mind, we need to allow it to incubate while we take a slow pleasant walk. Listen to the birds. Smell the flowers along the way. Eureka! The answer to our problem has appeared to us, like magic.

Take a trip or live in a foreign country.

The American Psychological Association was the first to study the links between living abroad and creativity. It found that foreign travel was like thinking outside the box, expanding one’s experiences and knowledge and boosting creativity. After living many years in Paris, the Spanish artist Picasso created Cubism only after he spent time studying art in Africa.

Take a nap.

Wasn’t Sir Isaac Newton relaxing/napping under an apple tree when an apple fell on his head? Was it the nap or the experience of the apple conking him in the head that sparked his first ideas about gravity? Or both?

P1040797-2

Napping works. A power nap of twenty minutes helps alertness and motor skills. A ‘REM sleep’ nap of sixty minutes or longer can boost your memory, energy, and especially creativity, helping you solve those creative problems. On the other hand, sleep deprivation has been proven to stifle creativity and problem solving.

Then there’s Google.

We’ve all heard of Google employee job perks—a place to take a nap, music, serene grounds to stroll through, a basketball court, library, and gym, etc.  Well, it turns out, these types of diversions are the very things science says will trigger those sparks of genius that the Google employees are known for. Google is correct. These diversions may not be perks at all, but a necessity for creativity.

Finally…

Is creativity something one is born with?
No. Anyone from any background can be creative. Given enough knowledge and experiences to build upon, almost anyone could create something unique or innovational. The goal is to pack your brain with facts and experience which you can draw upon later when you need it.

Is creativity in a specific spot in the right side of the brain?
No. In an MRI scan, the brain lights up in multiple places during creative activities. The brain draws upon all the experiences, memories and knowledge the person has to reach a solution.

Can creativity be enhanced?
Yes. We can increase the number of possible connections in our brain. That means we must see more, learn more, do more, feel more. When we need a creative idea, we allow our subconscious to work on making those connections. Relax. Take a shower. Take a nap. Take a walk or even a trip.

The spark of an idea or the answer to a problem can come in any moment, in peace and quiet, in a diversion or in physical activity, so keep your phone or notepad handy.

JellyFishSharkCollageTijuana graffiti – Jellyfish, Shark, and Turtle

 

I created this post after visiting a foreign country, walking my dogs—and then taking a nap.

How do you boost your creativity?

img_3925_2

Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is the first book in the series, Secret of Haunted Bog is the second title, and the upcoming Legend of Monster Island will be the third. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.

 

 

Creating an Audio Book

pugMany authors seek to understand how to create an audio version of their book(s) to attract more followers. At face value, the process can seem complex and daunting. In the next few minutes, I hope to give you a one hundred-foot perspective to remove the scariness and get you on your way achieving your objective.

First and foremost, design a marketing plan for your audio book even before you create it. Without a plan to get others to notice, it will not matter how good it is. Set yourself up for success to realize profit on the time and effort you spend creating your audio book.

Next, you need to choose whether you will record the story yourself or have a professional narrator record it for you–cost is usually the primary concern, but allow me to expand your considerations. I have done both, so allow me to share insights I gleaned from creating a podcast of my first book, Andy Smithson: Blast of the Dragon’s Fury on my own, versus my experience using ACX with a professional narrator for the audio book of my second book, Andy Smithson: Venom of the Serpent’s Cunning.

With Amazon’s acquisition of ACX, there are a host of professional narrators available to bring your story to life in ways the page cannot. With ACX, you can choose to either pay the narrator on an hourly basis leaving you the full profit after ACX fees, or you can do a revenue share to split the risk and reward. I recorded my audio book at ACX with a revenue share agreement because I had no history to go on to judge fan interest.

Things to consider when using a professional narrator:

  • Narrators are in this for the money, just like you. As such, interested narrators will want to know how you plan to market the audio book so they can gauge potential sales. Have a compelling marketing narrative at hand so prospective narrators will view you as a positive opportunity.
  • Do a gut check. An audio book is not the solution to slow book sales, but an additional distribution channel. If your books have not sold well, understand that you need to take care of your narrator’s income if you want him/her to be available to record more than one audio book, particularly if you have a series.
  • If you choose to pursue a narrator on ACX, your next step is to spec out your project and find qualified candidates. To do so, create an account on ACX.com and go to https://www.acx.com/help/authors/200484540 for specific next steps.

micIf you choose to record your book yourself, steps for success include:

  • Download free audio editing software from Audacity at http://bit.ly/1kKiX7q. I found this software very easy to use as a novice. It’s forgiving and will give you a quality product.
  • Purchase a condenser microphone. There are many inexpensive mics on the market, but if they are less than $75, they will not give you the clear sound you seek. I purchased the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB condenser microphone. This website (http://bit.ly/1t938Xd) has it for $99.
  • I also purchased Podcasting for Dummies and found it to be immensely helpful for all the specifics related to the Audacity software.
  • Use YouTube videos to learn specific tips about recording. There are a host of these videos at http://bit.ly/1kKl4In that give suggestions, among which include: have a glass of water handy, wear casual clothes so the fabric will not make noise when you move, and more.
  • If you want to make your book sound even more professional, consider adding some royalty free music. There are a host of selections for not a lot of money at musicbakery.com.
  • FYI: You can still distribute your book through ACX so you can leverage the power of Amazon.

Believe it or not, that’s it. This is the landscape for creating an audio book. I think you will agree it is not unreasonably complicated, even if you choose to do it yourself. To listen to my works:
Podcast of Book 1: Andy Smithson: Blast of the Dragon’s Fury – FREE on my website at http://bit.ly/1t9genw that I produced myself.
Sample of Book 2: Andy Smithson: Venom of the Serpent’s Cunning – at Amazon  http://amzn.to/1sMc4oU in which I used a professional narrator via ACX.

What questions can I answer about creating an audio book?

________________________________________________________________________

Linda2L. R. W. Lee is the author of the Andy Smithson MG/YA coming of age fantasy adventure series. A planned 7-book series, the following are currently available:
Blast of the Dragon’s Fury, Book One
Venom of the Serpent’s Cunning, Book Two.
Book Three, Disgrace of the Unicorn’s Honor is coming October 13th!

She is a wife, mom and reader of the same kinds of books she writes. From age 8 she had a passion to write books that not only entertain, but also teach uncommon life principles. Learn more about her books, read sample chapters, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!

Connect with L. R. W. at: Twitter   Website   Facebook

 

You’re Practically Grown Up…NOT!

Tween traitEighth-graders frequently seem confused about how grown up they are. And do you blame them? Not me. Twelve to fourteen-year-olds pay adult admission, and are about to make the giant leap into high school, yet they’re not allowed to drive or work. Bummer. Girls, already on the road in developing the forms and functions of grown women, deal with parents who one moment scold, “You’re practically grown up!” and then awhile later become hysterical when their princess ASKS about the ins and outs of dating. Boys, with their physical and sexual maturity just beginning to awaken, are suddenly surrounded by a horde of newly attractive and unnervingly gigantic girls. Yikes!

Most eighth-graders concerns are related to friends, family, and school. Honestly, it’s a social media nightmare at times. Are they going to be embarrassed? Will their BFF still be their friend tomorrow? Does he like me like me, or just like me? You get the drift.

So as a writer, how do you connect with such a tough audience, who’s not quite grown up, yet feel that all systems are go and are ready to wear bigger shoes? One way is to hook into their characteristics, and extract a much needed trait or a combination of traits to make your characters feel authentic to your readers. In order to do this, we need to take a look at what makes an eighth-grader tick.

Here are some 8th Grader Characteristics:

  • Can be touchy, and express anger easily.
  • Music is increasingly important to them, as is technology and the latest got-to-have gadget.
  • Sarcasm is a prevalent quality. (I use that one a lot!)
  • As their self-concept develops, they can be withdrawn or prone to challenging others. They struggle with a sense of identity.
  • Abstract reasoning skills are strengthening and expanding.
  • May test limits and rules, but also develop ideals and choose role models.
  • Skin problems may be emerging, boys’ voices are changing, and girls are menstruating. Personal hygiene and self-confidence become issues.
  • May begin to experiment with sex and substances.

Remember, readers this age are looking for escape, to experience things they can’t in their own lives. Being attuned to how they think, and what they’re feeling is a step in the right direction to creating a story that will keep this age group turning page after page of your latest tween read!

Sharon Ledwith HeadshotSharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, available through Musa Publishing, and is represented by Walden House (Books & Stuff) for her teen psychic series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, yoga, and anything arcane. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.

Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her WEBSITE and BLOG. Look up her AMAZON AUTHOR page for a list of current books. Stay connected on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, GOOGLE+, TUMBLR, and GOODREADS. Check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.

Dr. Who?

 

doctor-who-logo

I remember as a child watching a lot of science fiction with my dad. I loved Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. What I didn’t love was Dr. Who.

Oh, how it scared me! But I was quite young, probably around 7 or 8 years old. But there’s a new Dr. Who currently streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video and it might be what some Harry Potter fans are looking for.

Dr. Who is a wonderful mix of science fiction, time travel, horror, and campy humor. It’s not scary at all, in fact a number of my friend’s tweens are watching it with their parents and enjoying the series. The horror aspect in some episodes are: a giant bug stuck on your back that changes reality, evil metal man-shaped robots that don’t have any feelings, and blobs of fat that run off of you and look adorable as they float off to the mother-ship.

dr who1

But I figured an interview with my friend Katie who is 11 might help you decide if you want to try out Dr. Who for yourself.

When did you start watching Dr. Who?

When I was 10, my mom heard from a friend that it was a good show. So we decided to try it out and we’re hooked. We watch it on Netflix.

What would you tell someone your age who has never heard of Dr. Who?

I’d tell them that it’s Science Fiction, that it’s really funny and that there are some aliens that can be scary but not very scary.

What is your favorite thing about watching Dr. Who?

The companions and the sonic screwdriver.

sonic_screwdriver (Me butting in, Companions are the Doctor’s friends that he takes with him on his adventures, and the sonic screwdriver, well that’s his trusty fix-everything device, a must for all time travelers!)

It’s also cool that the Doctor can change, that way when one actor gets tired of doing it another one can take his place. I cried when my favorite David Tenant left the show but I really like the next Doctor, Matt Smith.

(Me again, the Doctor can regenerate when he’s injured!)

Katie has become such a fan of the show that she says she loves it just as much as Harry Potter.

There are a number of Dr. Who books published in a series beginning in 2009 by BBC Press. I’ve found them in the YA section of my local library. A great way to start a new fan on the Dr. Who universe.

tardis

The Tardis- The Doctor’s time traveling space ship

For the Harry Potter fans who may be looking for something new and different this might be the show and book series for them. Katie even has a new t-shirt, it says:

My Patronus is a Tardis!

I think I’d like to own that t-shirt too!

AnshaKotyk Ansha Kotyk writes books about adventure with just a hint of the fantastical, just like a Dr. Who episode. Her first book Gangsterland follows Jonathan who falls into his comic book about 1920′s gangsters… and the adventures he has.

 

New Release: Of Mice and Momphibraks

MOT 1 coverA collection of satirical princess stories and spoofed fairy tales begins with the first installment of A Maze of Tales~Of Mice and Momphibraks.  Each short story will come out on Amazon for kindle, and when the collection is complete, a paperback anthology will bring the whole mess (…er maze) together.

 

The first tale begins in a kingdom so ridiculously far, far, far away from anything else that potential conquering (or at least pestering) forces couldn’t be bothered to make the journey for such a small patch of land, no matter how fertile the fields or how full of magical mice.  Princess Pennilopintha is about to find true love…but not until her prince cuts the cheese.  Literally.

 

Coming soon: Saccharine White (she smiles with artificial sweetness)!  Each story is connected to the one before it by at least one character, and they will all eventually loop back around to the beginning.  Think of them as baseball cards or stickers and be sure to collect them all!

Emblazon headshot

For more on Lia London, see LiaLondonBooks.com

 

THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

Have you ever heard of star lore? You possibly have, but haven’t even considered that star lore is the name for mythical stories about stars and constellations. It’s a fun subject to delve into, and the summer months are a perfect time for it.

You may have stood outside on a hot summer night and gazed up at the myriad of stars shining across the galaxy. It’s difficult to get the full impact of such an activity if you live in the city or a suburban area, with all the competition of man-made lights. But if you live in the country, or ever get the chance to go camping, you’ll be amazed at the awesome sight overhead.

Orion is an easily identifiable constellation, once you locate the three small (from this distance!) stars that make up his belt. They lie at a slight diagonal, so you can hardly miss them. The Dippers, too, are fairly easy to find. But many of the constellations are a bit trickier to the untrained eye. There are books available with star charts that can help if you’re interested in becoming an amateur astronomer.

What made me think of this is the time of year. This time, between early July and mid-August, is known as the Dog Days of Summer. As a child, I didn’t understand the reference, so I asked my parents what it meant. I think my mother made some vague comment about the extreme heat being something only a dog could love, but my dad explained in a bit more detail. According to my dad, it all goes back to the myth of the Dog Star, Sirius.

Sirius is the brightest star in the summer sky, at least here in the northern hemisphere. One reason it appears so bright is because it is so close to earth, whereas many of the other stars are a lot farther away. Sirius, as it happens, is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. To my untrained eye, it appears that Sirius is located right where a collar might encircle the dog’s neck. Others may see it differently.

There are many myths surrounding the constellation Canis Major. Some ancient civilizations thought the constellation resembled a hunting bow with an arrow – aimed roughly at Orion. Some of them refer to this constellation, which resembles the shape of a dog, as being one of Orion’s hunting dogs. Others also saw it as a dog, possibly one that belonged to other gods or goddesses, or that it was the fastest dog in the world and a god sent him up to the heavens as a reward for his great speed. Whatever the beliefs, people have, in the past, recognized that when Sirius appears shortly after sunrise, the hot, dry days of summer are upon us. Some even offered red dog sacrifices to appease the gods during this time. Yuck!

I’ve read several middle grade books lately that integrate the stars and even some of the myths surrounding them. One is Winter Sky, by Patricia Reilly Giff. Another one that I just finished is The Same Stuff as Stars, by Katherine Paterson. Wish You Weren’t, by Sherrie Petersen, a fellow indie author, also deals in star lore, and you might want to check out Cyclesby Lois Decker Brown, and The Candle Star, by Michelle Athearn Isenhoff. You can find those last two FREE on Amazon. And if you’re into picture books, look for The Little Moon Princess, by Y. J. Lee. All of these books feature astronomical bodies and are lovely reads.

I hope you all have an opportunity to observe the bright lights up in the heavens, and possibly learn more about them, along with all the other constellations that are out there. If you’ve already explored these distant bodies, I’d love to hear of your experiences. Sharing our knowledge and life experiences is a great way to open doors of friendship and expand our minds and hearts.

HAPPY READING!

Cordelia Dinsmore

 

 

 

 

 

Audiobooks—Oh, how I love thee

I want to start this post of by saying I LOVE audiobooks. I love them so much I gave up a publishing contract with a good publisher over my audiobook rights. As some might know I work full time as a freelance illustrator and cover designer. Drawing can take up a lot of time throughout the day. Instead of listening to music, I listen to books. I average about 3 audiobooks a week. They help me get through my day and get through my “to be read list”. Audiobooks make up at least 90% of my day to day reading. The majority of them are middle-grade books.

Why am I such a lover of audiobooks? Check out this list below to find out. There are many benefits from reading an audiobook. These are just a few:

  • Storytelling out loud goes back to the beginning of time. It is how we all used to cute-15719“read” a story. The love of the spoken word grew into all sorts of other forms of entertainment: readings, theater, and movies. When we listen to an audiobook we are embracing that love that is fused in our very makeup.
  • Listening to books can actually help your reading levels. Listening to how words are pronounced and how sentences are spoken aloud can actually strengthen your reading. This is why parents are encouraged by doctors to read aloud to their children at least twenty minutes a day.
  • Most narrators have experience in the theater and they showcase that during their productions of audiobooks. Narrators diversify the books by giving different voices to each of the characters and making the senses more real and gripping. I remember my first time listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, read by Jim Dale. It was fantastic! I had read that book probably half a dozen times before listening to the audiobook. To be honest, I never enjoyed it as much as I did when Jim Dale read it to me. I really believe that it also promotes literacy to children and gets them excited to read on their own.read-316507
  • Audiobooks are readily available. Most libraries carry them, and with companies like iTunes and Audible, audiobooks are at our figure tips. This is particularly nice because lots of teachers encourage kids to listen to the audiobook as they follow along in the print version. This too helps advance reading levels.
  • Piggybacking on reading along with audiobook I’d like to share a little about Amazon’s Whispersync technology. You can purchase an eBook from Amazon and then get the audiobook (also at a discounted price of normally $1.99) and then you can listen to the book as you read on your kindle. It’s quite fascinating. Each word highlights as the narrator reads along. I think this is a marvelous tool for those that want to advance their reading skills, especially kids.

51JwCnlVzJL._SL500_AA300_PIaudible,BottomRight,13,73_AA300_Did you know that many of the Emblazon authors have audiobooks available? I just found this out myself. They have all been added to my “listening list”. The few that I have had the opportunity to let my ears devour have been sensational. They took me right into another world and kept me entertained up until the very end. Like all good books they left me with a linger of that world still on my mind.

I invite you to listen to an audiobook. If you never have, oh what a treat you are in for. If you have before keep doing it. If your first experience wasn’t so good. Try again. Most people want to tackle an audiobook by listening to something brain challenging like War and Peace. Not that it isn’t a great book, but it might not be your best audiobook “first”. Make your “first” be a middle-grade book…seriously. You will have fun. You will laugh. You will cry. You will become a fan of audiobooks for a lifetime.

List of audiobooks by Emblazoner authors:

 Some of my “recent” favs to give a listen:

Let me know how your audiobook experiences are going. I love to hear what others think of audiobooks. If you need more suggestions just let me know I have a wickedly long list of favorite audiobooks. My top favorite right now: The Dream Keeper Chronicles books 1 and 2 (I know, I know those are my books. But I still love them). Now go listen to a book!

Events To Inspire

 

IMG_20140620_162416Over the past couple of months, I had the pleasure of attending two writer events where authors and their teen readers were present. There were plenty of tweens at one of the events, which was exciting for an author like me. I absolutely love being amid this type of group because of the fun everyone has. Children and teens are naturally curious, many are quick to humor, and most know how to be “in the moment.”

Children’s writers—those writing for children up through young adults—are also some pretty cool kids. They easily tap into this same energy, bringing out that child/tween/teen inside themselves. This is how they can draw out characters rich in age-fitting scenarios or write about situations kids can relate to on a personal level. This is how they connect with their readers.

As an author-exhibitor at a handful of events over the past year, I learned that no matter how shy the kid (big or small), a fun table attracts them. Author swag—bookmarks, book-themed buttons, stickers, candy, etc.—appeals to even the most hesitant attendee and can generate interest. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations struck up with tweens and teens about fantasy books, mythology, or becoming a writer initiated by offering them cool “stuff”. Lots of kids signed up for a raffle my author-friend and I hosted at one event, many stuck our buttons all over their tote bags or lanyard ropes, and a few teens were having so much fun with the particular event’s theme, they came to our table wearing alien masks.

Fellow children’s authors are a ton of fun, too. Most coming to these types of events are eager to connect and share their experiences and/or engage in what I like to call “nerding out” over books they love, have written, or read; favorite characters; supernatural themes; what-if scenarios on well-known stories; favorite covers, etc.  This sort of writer-to-writer “play” is inspiring. And playing is fun! Kids know that, and big kids benefit from time spent where they can nurture this kid-energy and energize their creative juices.

And when authors (ahem . . . me included) can be seen wearing antennae, glow-in-the-dark jewelry, or even alien masks alongside the kids, you can almost hear the ticking of keys as new stories begin to spark from enthused imaginations.

head shot image extra crop colorChristina Mercer is an award-winning author of fiction for children and young adults. Honored titles include Tween Fantasy ARROW OF THE MIST and its sequel ARMS OF ANU, and YA Fantasy/Romance HONEY QUEEN. Christina enjoys life in the foothills of Northern California with her husband and sons, a pack of large dogs, and about 100,000 honeybees. For more about her and her writing, visit www.christinamercer.com

BOTH (TWEEN) BOOKS ONLY 99 CENTS EACH!

ARROWoftheMIST (3)

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | KOBO | iTUNES | SMASHWORDS

arms of anu (640x960)

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | KOBO | iTUNES | SMASHWORDS

 

Finding Great Summer Reads

The purpose of Emblazon is to celebrate tween literature. In fact, to encourage kids to make reading part of their summer activities, we’re sponsoring a summer reading contest. (There’s still plenty of time to enter!) But choosing that next book can sometimes be challenging. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by so many titles. Or perhaps you’re tired of the same small selection at your local library. Today I’ll share some resources for locating exceptional titles to dive into over the summer months.

Every year, many awards are given out for excellence in children’s literature. Here are some of the most prestigious:

John Newbery Medal

national book award medal 2The granddaddy of them all is the Newbery Medal. Who hasn’t heard of this one? Books that win this coveted prize are considered the best contribution to American children’s literature in the previous calendar year. Many local libraries have online lists of Newbery winners connected to their catalog. I frequent ours often. But here’s a database on the Newbery website with all past winners, including honor books. How many have you read? I’m at 38, not counting honor books.

Michael Printz Award

PrintzThe Michael Printz Award was started in 2000. According to the official website, it is “an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a Topeka, Kansas school librarian who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association.  The award is sponsored by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association.” Here’s a list of past winners and honorable mentions.

National Book Award

national book award This award is administered each year by the National Book Foundation which, according to their website, seeks to “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.” Here’s a handy linked cover image list of past winners dating back to the 1950’s.

Coretta Scott King Award

coretta-king-seal-229528_185x185This is the granddaddy of African American teen literature. “The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.” This list includes all past recipients.

Golden Kite Awards

golden kiteThis prize is awarded by SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). It is “given annually to recognize excellence in children’s literatures in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Book Text, and Picture Book Illustration.” I couldn’t find a comprehensive list on the official webpage. Thank goodness for Wikipedia.

Notable Children’s Books

notablebook

Many books are included in this distinguished list each year, as chosen by the American Library Association. “According to the Notables Criteria, ‘notable’ is defined as: Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.” You can view all past lists here.

Cybils Award

cybilsThis last award happens to be my favorite. It’s administered by book bloggers—regular people who happen to be avid readers. Maybe I like it so much because one of my books was actually nominated out of the blue last year by one of these regular readers. (It’s permafree on Amazon.) I didn’t win, but I was thrilled to be counted among some of my favorite authors. Here’s a list of past winners.

Of course, just because a book won an award doesn’t mean you’ll like it. And there are thousands of titles that never receive the accolades they deserve. So, keep your eyes peeled. If you find any exceptional titles, please…LET ME KNOW! Drop me a note on Facebook. Really. I’m always on the lookout for my next great read.

Oh yeah…one final way to locate great titles is to search the ones written by our Emblazon authors. :) Even better, check out our selection of freebies and award winners.

Happy summer reading!!

0451111

 

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of nine children’s novels. She has a background in elementary education and blogs about children’s literature and self publishing at MichelleIsenhoff.com.

Where’s Mom and Dad?

IMG_5779Once upon a time, we were kids.  We hated homework and lima beans, and we loved cartoons and fart jokes. Energy abounded, and so did laughter, grass stains and candy wrappers.  Soap and finished chores were much harder to find.  Our parents were background furniture unless they served as vending machines who dispensed bandaids, snacks or new shoes.  We thought they were nuts most of the time, except when they were being boring or mean.

And then we grew up and became parents ourselves.  Some of us decided to write for the very children we used to be.  We create stories full of imagination and adventure, mystery and humor.  We’re usually pretty good at including the things we had and did in our youth, but we often forget–as we did then–the parents.

So many young heroes today seem to be busy saving the world without adult supervision, and while I understand that such stories feed the independent spirit of children, it doesn’t do much to foster the most important relationships they’ll ever have: those within their family.

I say this, and I am guilty of it myself.  There go my characters, wishing they had guidance, wondering in whom to trust, and needing that protective hug that says, “It’s going to be okay.  I’m here for you.”

(This is where I reveal how incredibly outdated I am.)  We don’t have cable TV.  Or satellite.  Or Netflix.  I make my kids watch DVDs of The Andy Griffith Show, The Brady Bunch and other shows of that ilk.  Guess what?  They love them!  When Opie goes to Pa, or Marsha and Greg seek counsel from Mom and Dad, it all makes sense.  The world is righted.

Nowadays, much of tween programming has either absentee parents or buffoons who are the punchline of all disrespectful jokes, but our books don’t have to follow suit.  That doesn’t mean that our young characters can’t reflect true-to-life attitudes about adults.  I recently read a hilarious passage in a middle grade book that illustrated a child’s disdain for the tasteless diet of her health freak parents.  I later found out the author is a health freak herself and had made fun of herself in a totally engaging way without taking parents out of the picture or making them lose all credibility.

All kinds of studies show that kids who read fiction grow up to be more empathetic, creative, and adept at problem-solving.  After all, they’ve watched it all happen in their minds.  What if they also grew up to be more respectful and loving to their parents, more inclined to value family, and more likely to stand up for (instead of mock) their siblings?

photo credit: npr.com

photo credit: npr.com

We can do that.  It’s been done before.  Harper Lee gave us Atticus Finch, and Laura Ingalls Wilder gave us Pa and Ma.  We can fill the shelves with parental role models that even kids will think are cool.

***

Emblazon headshotLia London has written three MG/YA books and is currently working on the sequel to The Gypsy Pearl, a tween series that will definitely conclude with a reunited family!  Learn more about her and her writing at LiaLondonBooks.com.